I think we would all agree that stress is public enemy number one. And no matter how many journal entries we write, how many cold dives we plunge into, or what meditations we record, that all-too-familiar “flight or fight” mode inevitably kicks in, thanks to trying everything balance: deadlines, relationships, family. obligations, life in general, you know the story.
Our bodies need the stress hormone cortisol to survive, and a certain amount is necessary and healthy: cortisol levels rise naturally when waking up or working out, for example. However, chronic cortisol – AKA high levels over a long period of time – can keep our bodies stuck in a perpetual state of stress and wreak havoc on our mental and physical health, leading to increased health risks like depression and depression. anxiety, immune system dysfunction, and disease.
But here’s the good news: when we manage our cortisol levels (read: get quality sleep, eat well, exercise but don’t over-exercise, and have a stress-relieving ritual like meditation) , we can enjoy a myriad of health benefits for our body. will thank us. I enlisted the experts to tell us the telltale signs of chronically elevated cortisol and the benefits you can expect when you relax. Read on for what they had to say.
Signs you have high cortisol levels
It is undeniable that our body sends us signals when we are hungry, tired and stressed. And even though stress has a bad reputation, it can send us warning signs that we need to pay attention to. Here are the general symptoms that your body is producing too much cortisol:
- weight gain, primarily around the midsection and upper back
- weight gain and rounded face
- skin thinning
- easy bruising
- red face
- slowed healing
- muscular weakness
- great fatigue
- difficulty concentrating
- high blood pressure
Benefits of lower cortisol levels
1. Reduced inflammation
If you have consistently high levels of cortisol, your body may get used to having too much cortisol, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. “Cortisol can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while also affecting insulin sensitivity, so lower cortisol levels can help reduce inflammation in the body, leading to less pain” , explained Becca Smith, licensed professional counselor and clinical director at BasePoint. Academy. No pain, all the gain, am I right?
2. Lower Blood Pressure
In times of high stress, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, so it’s no surprise that when you reduce your stress, your blood pressure follows suit. “Strong evidence shows that sustained rest from cortisol allows your muscles to relax, which lowers your heart and breathing rate, normalizes blood oxygenation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces blood sugar and the release and deposition of fat,” said Jessica Houston, MEd, MSPH, Founder and CEO of Vitamin & Me.
3. Better skin
It’s no secret that stress can lead to pesky breakouts—none of us are immune to waking up with an untimely zit while trying to meet a work deadline or after an argument with your boss. SO. But when you’re zen, your skin is one of the first to reap the benefits. The result? A major burst. “Because cortisol stimulates sebum production (which can lead to acne and other skin problems), reducing cortisol can help improve your skin’s health,” Smith said. “Low cortisol leads to clearer skin, brighter eyes, shinier hair, and more visible redness on the cheeks,” echoed Lauren Cook-McKay, a licensed therapist. “This is because stress no longer impairs internal bodily processes, allowing internal organs to function more efficiently.”
4. Improved digestion and metabolism
If you’re like me, digestive drama isn’t far behind when stress rears its ugly head. The reason? Stress can lead to decreased blood flow and oxygen to the stomach and slow digestion so you have more energy to fight or flight (AKA your body’s primary stress response). These changes could lead to cramping, inflammation, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. The silver lining? “When we lower cortisol to take better care of ourselves through additional positive health behaviors (i.e. stress management, sleep, food choices, exercise), our blood sugar stabilizes and there is less excess glucose circulating in the body with nowhere to go, improving digestion and metabolism,” described Sarah-Nicole Bostan, clinical health psychologist and director of behavior change strategy at Signos. Additionally, “proper cortisol levels modulate the inflammatory response and regulate metabolism, which improves gut and immune health,” Houston explained.
5. Boost your mood
There are the aforementioned physical health benefits of keeping your cortisol levels at bay, and then there are the mental health benefits. “The neurochemical changes in the brain resulting from lower cortisol not only improve levels of hormones involved in the stress pathway, but they stimulate the production of mood-enhancing endorphins,” Houston said. And we can do our part to increase the volume of those endorphins by exercising, eating foods we like, and having sex.
Chronic cortisol also impacts symptoms of anxiety and depression. “Reducing chronic cortisol can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by increasing serotonin production in the brain,” Smith said. “It helps you react better to stress in the future by giving your body more tools to handle stressful situations without resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms.” Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or therapist if you suffer from anxiety or depression.
6. Improved focus and energy
“Chronic stress and high cortisol levels can lead to a decrease in serotonin, disrupting normal brain function,” Smith explained. “This, in turn, can lead to poor concentration, low energy levels and loss of interest in activities. [Lowering chronic cortisol] helps bring your body’s hormone levels back into balance, resulting in better ability to focus and focus on tasks as well as increased energy levels. Bottom Line: Keeping your cortisol levels in check translates to bringing your A (hello, productivity) game.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a mental health or medical issue. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this article.